Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Semi-Random Thoughts on Texas, the Alamo, Gun Culture and Elvis Costello

If you want to read about my impressions of Interactive Intelligence's conference, this isn't the place to be. Texas is a big place, and whenever I come here, all kinds of things synapse for me in ways that just don't seem to happen anywhere else. Maybe it's all the sun and hot weather...

Anyhow, this is a very different type of blog post, and if you're wondering what the Alamo, Elvis Costello, guns and Interactive could possibly have in common, bear with me.

I'll start with a walkabout I did yesterday afternoon. Everyone knows what this is...

How can you NOT pay a visit to the Alamo, esp when it's about 3 blocks from our hotel? I love history and really enjoyed seeing this for the first time. Being from New England, I never had a true appreciation for what the Alamo means to Texans. You'd think it's considered a national historic site - and it probably is - but it's on a whole other level here. As the sign says, it's a "shrine" - and no pictures are allowed inside.

This sure is holy ground for Texas, and after learning more about the story, I realize this was their Boston Massacre. Am sure kids down here learn about that in passing, but my guess is that their history classes focus more about the Alamo. Texas really has its own sovereign identity that you just don't see anywhere else. So what is this a shrine to? Well, sure it's about independence and freedom, but around here, nothing embodies that more than guns. Frontier justice may be a thing of the past, but as they say, don't mess with Texas...

This brings me to synapse #1 - guns, Texas and Interactive.

At the Interactive general sessions yesterday, the stage props included some vertical towers with circular cut-outs for lights inside them. Like this:

I have no doubt I'm the only person in the room who made an instant association of this with a well known building that leads me to synapse #2. Anyone recognize this building?

Unless you're from Austin or a big Elvis Costello fan, it's extremely unlikely you'll know what I'm talking about.

This is "The Tower" building at the University of Texas campus in Austin, which is not far from San Antonio. Locals will know why the building is bathed in orange - the color of the Texas Longhorns - and they light the building when their teams win. I get that - and found it a bizarre coincidence that the "tower" prop here at the conference was lit in a similar way.

None of this registered for me until hearing a song from Elvis Costello's country music phase called "Psycho." It's such a departure from his style, and the back story is incredible. The song was penned by a blind country singer name Leon Payne, and Elvis did this amazing version that has become one of my favorite tunes of his.

The song is a very chilling rendition of the Texas Tower Sniper massacre in 1966. Once you read the story, you just can't get Elvis's song out of your head. In short, the story is about Charles Whitman, who was a student there, as well as an ex-Marine. He was also mentally unstable, and simply snapped and went on a shooting rampage. First he stabbed his mother and wife to death, then took his rifle and ammo up the tower and opened fire on helpless students below, killing 16 people before being gunned down by the police. This happened WAY before Colombine, and probably set the template for these types of killing sprees that now seem to be the inspiration for video games. Don't get me started on that one. Anyhow, I have no idea what inspired Elvis to sing about such a morbid event, but he sure captured its essence - check it out if you're still with me here.

I've never been to Austin, but San Antonio is close enough by to make these unlikely connections work for me. It also reminded me of my 2008 trip to Dallas and my experience visiting Dealey Plaza, yet another landmark symbol of the U.S. gun culture, esp deep in the heart of Texas.

Oh - finally - you'll love this. As I'm writing this, the most bizarre tune is playing now on my iTunes - Pantera's "Cowboys From Hell". Aside from Psycho, I couldn't have picked a more appropo tune for this post. Could you?

Enough synapsing for now - back to the conference...

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